HC Deb 07 August 1888 vol 329 cc1839-42

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty, Whether he is aware that, in supposed connection with the Naval Manœuvres now going on off the West Coast of Ireland, H.M.S. Calypso and H.M.S. Spider have, during the last few days, been engaged in visiting certain towns, mostly watering places, on the West Coast of Scotland and the Firth of Clyde, which, with much mock formality, they have "captured;" and that in particular H.M.S. Spider, under the command of Lieutenant Foley, on Sunday last, appeared off the town of Greenock, and during the hours of Divine Service kept up a heavy fire of her guns by way of playing at bombardment; whether any useful lesson whatever is taught to the officers and seamen of the Fleet in these proceedings; and, whether the Board of Admiralty will order the discontinuance of such proceedings, as causing needless disturbance and inconvenience to the inhabitants of the places visited, without any advantage to the Naval Service of the country?

ADMIRAL FIELD (Sussex, Eastbourne)

Before the noble Lord answers the Question, may I ask him whether he would not rather commend the commanders of the ships for the zeal and cleverness they have displayed in capturing these towns, and thus bringing home to the minds of Scotchmen in particular the facility with which their towns and harbours can be bombarded, and their property destroyed, unless the supremacy of our Navy is maintained by an increase of its strength?


The main object of the Naval Manœuvres is to test, as far as it is practicable, the damage that hostile cruisers might be able to effect on our commerce and littoral towns in the event of war. The Calypso and Spider are presumably following the orders of the Admiral commanding the hostile Squadron in harrying the coasts wherever it is possible. Though I regret that any firing in the vicinity of Greenock should have occurred during the hours of Divine Service, I consider that it is for the benefit of the Public Service that these manœuvres should continue as begun, for it is certain that much valuable information will result from them. The officers and men engaged in the manœuvres have, with alacrity and zeal, borne the discomfort and fatigue of a fortnight's blockade in rough weather; and they ought not to be grudged the firing of a few rounds of blank cartridge to signalize their successful performance of the duties entrusted to them.


Will the noble Lord say whether, as I have put it, any useful lesson is taught to the officers and seamen of the Fleet by these proceedings; whether they at all realize the actual conditions of things in a state of war; whether it is likely that any probable enemy would proceed to the bombardment of an absolutely defenceless town; and, whether in time of actual hostilities, such a town as Greenock would have to be defended? I would also ask, whether the noble Lord regards it as part of the object of these Naval Manœuvres to teach lessons not only to the Admiralty and the officers and seamen of the Fleet, but to the Civil population of British towns?


Will the noble Lord also say whether we are not supposed to be in a condition of war; and whether, therefore, it is not the duty of the Navy to disregard days of the week, and to think only of the defence of the country?


The right hon. Gentleman has put to me a number of hypothetical Questions which I obviously cannot answer. Whether our littoral towns, which are not defended by fortifications, would be free from attack in a time of hostilities is a question which the enemy alone can answer. One object in firing guns when a cruiser approaches a town is to denote the time at which it arrives opposite the town; for one of the Rules laid down is that, unless a crusier happens to be opposite a town at a certain time, it is not to be understood as having taken it. The guns are fired to denote the exact time at which a vessel arrives. I believe that most valuable lessons will be taught to the Naval Service, as well as to the Civil population. I am glad to find that the view which the right hon. Gentleman takes is not shared by the Scotch populations; for I find it reported that at the neighbouring town of Ardrossan— The manœuvres were witnessed by a large number of the people of the town, who considered it was a complete victory for their forces, and warmly cheered the Coastguards for saving the town.

MR. CALDWELL (Glasgow, St. Rollox)

The noble Lord says he cannot answer a hypothetical Question. Will he answer this practical Question—Whether the Government have learnt any practical lesson from what is taking place, and would see their way to put the Clyde in a proper state of defence?

SIR WILFRID LAWSON (Cumberland, Cockermouth)

I would ask the noble Lord to state, if he can, what the country will have to pay for all these absurdities?


The cost will be comparatively small; and I think there is no part of the expenditure connected with the Naval Service which is more beneficial than teaching the men how to use the vessels and guns with which they are entrusted.